Belfast Telegraph

New SF man backs Orange event
By Kim Kelly

NORTHERN Ireland's newest Sinn Fein politician - who was a former member of the Orange Order - has supported a request for funding from Coleraine Orange Lodge to stage a three-day cultural event to mark the Battle of the Somme.

Former RUC officer and SDLP defector Billy Leonard surprised his colleagues at Coleraine Council last night when he voted in favour of donating nearly £5,000 to LOL 87 for the event which will include a parade and exhibition.

Dr Leonard, a one-time Protestant lay preacher, who was a member of the Orange Order in his teens, stunned his SDLP colleagues last month when he joined Sinn Fein.

He became the first member of Sinn Fein to hold a seat on the predominantly Unionist Coleraine Council and has largely been shunned by his council colleagues.

His fellow Coleraine councillors are continuing to call for his resignation, accusing him of deceiving his electorate.

However, at the time of his defection Dr Leonard stated that he would continue to work for all members of his constituency regardless of political affiliation.

He said that Sinn Fein party leaders were aware of his past and he was committed to working within the politics of 2004.

At last night's meeting of Coleraine Council's Leisure and Environment Committee, Dr Leonard said he welcomed the inclusiveness of the proposed Orange Order cultural event and gave it his full support.

The event, to be held in May, will bring the Somme Heritage Society's Exhibition to Coleraine and is designed to educate children about the 36th Ulster Division regiment's role in the 1916 battle.

A display will be set up for school visits.

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